The thing about underplaying is that it is under-rated. Will Smith does it so well in ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ that he makes you wish they did give him that little piece of sculpture after a well-deserved Academy award nomination.
Yes, it’s one of those ‘role-of-a-lifetime’ portrayals. Uplifting. Equally endearing is Smith Junior’s supporting act. The real-life father and son are the perfect foil to each other in this film that somehow seems inconceivable without their chemistry. The Smiths are the pillars of the film.
Though based on the biography of stockbrokerage entrepreneur Chris Gardner, the film takes a few liberties, exaggerates a few facts (Gardner was paid a $1000 stipend during the internship but in the movie he gets none), simplifies some (Gardner’s son was hardly a year old when he takes custody of his son and was secretly homeless for a year but in the movie his son is five and they have to survive homeless only for a few months), but stays true to the undying spirit of the man in his pursuit of happiness, or ‘Happyness’ as the daycare run by Asians teaches his son.
Director Gabriele Muccino makes the most of Steve Conrad’s screenplay to give us one of the most memorable films of the year, working around the predictability of a rags-to-riches narrative (a broke-to-broker story rather) by floating moments of hope in the middle of all that struggle and despair, punctuating the ups and downs with heartwarming moments of father-son bonding.
Even the heavy Bone Density Scanners that Gardner sells in the film, probably metaphorical of his swinging fortunes and times (a madman actually calls it a time-machine) are characters by themselves. Every time he loses one, you can feel his angst. Losing one meant losing a month’s groceries.
Will Smith breathes life and spirit into the role, underplaying it with the right nuances, toning down the histrionics just a little to make it realistic. Watch him break down softly in the restroom, feeling helpless about letting his son sleep there, with people knocking the doors into the night. Simply fantastic.
The finest moment of the film arrives right at the end, the moment the director had kept us waiting for: Happyness. And that’s the moment Will Smith reserves his best for. His face takes you through the increasing levels of happiness in his ultimate moment of triumph. This is kind of stuff that brings cheer to the heart. The kind of stuff that should have won him an award.
If you want to know what happiness is all about, ‘The Pursuit…’ is a must-watch.